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Article - 'The Source of RPGs' by RaidenMagmus

An item about Game Design posted on Nov 21, 2004


A simple, inspiring article by RaidenMagmus that talks about the aspects of RPGs, and what he thinks the ratios should be.


The Source of RPGs - Where did they come from?
What is a role playing game? Basically the idea is that you have one or more people play inside of a story. During the story they are allowed money, and experience on encounters. This first start in interactive story telling was how Dungeons & Dragons came into play.

The aspects that make a RPG - How to fullfill the role for making one.
I will now write a list of important aspects of an RPG that complete a roleplaing experience. Each divided into people, place, and timeline.

The people are a list of different characters, baddies, goodies, and so on that are displayed in the game.

Main Character
The main character is the focal point of the story. This particular person, or thing is usually more powerful than normal. Additionally part of an RPG game can be used to help define who this character is.

The good people
These are all different.. sometimes a good king, and maybe a few good guilds protecting the land from sorts of disaster. Other times "good" is just a bunch of factions that don't necessarily do really bad things. It's all relative to the morality of the "world". (In Cyberpunk RPGs the characters are hackers, gunners, and mages.. none of them entirely like a paladin!)

Supporting cast
The supporting casts vary from game to game. Usually a fighter or two. A good special attack user (Mage?). Some sort of healer is a good idea as well. These tend to support the character in his/her travels.

The bad people
Nobody likes these people, they just want to break things, or make other people's lives miserable. These people are what makes the main character important, who else is to save the world?

Locations in the world are important, as a lot of time will be spent (Maybe wasted) on travelling your world.

The Culture
What I mean by "culture" is the environment, and living standards the main character lives in. This is basically the setting when the game first starts. Later on this may change based on the characters actions. (Think of Sudeki's dark world, or even Fallout's "check list" at the end.)

Towns are important, major trade routes give your characters places where they can buy equipment, and rest. Another factor of towns is that they be somewhat different. Maybe one is on a sea side, or another is famous for its rare armor production.

Factions are what I call friendly people or, neutrals. The guardians of a great wall could be friendly to you, depending on whether they liked you or not. Simiarly, in Morrowind you had the three main factions (Greedy Miners, Isolated Wizards, and the ever-popular Empire). These people tend to live where it matters. A thief's guild in a gossipy bar. A temple for mages. Maybe a fortress for fighters.

Baddies Galore
What am I talking about? Well.. caves, castles, and secret hideouts. All places where bad people can create a fortress to make your life miserable (Or challenging). The more out of wack (And yet realistic), the better.

The main plot
The main plot in most RPGs is to save the world. But it can be a much simpler task, like in Shadowrun to claim vengeance for your murdered brother. In any case.. it should be a difficult task. And should at least curb the idea that it's directly related to another role playing game (Cliche is bad in almost all circumstances).

Plot twists / Side quests
Every game has his, from getting old Uncle Mack his lost feather hat from the cave down under, to some sneaky thief stealing the gem to the underworld. These different quests that the character encounters gives the character something to do, but should always be entertaining to some degree (A list of grocery items to find around a town isn't fun; we can already do that in real life!).

Assembly - Putting it all together.
Now that you know of each piece that makes an RPG a RPG, we can talk about how much is enough. For your common RPG you probably need 1 main character, and anywhere from 2 to 4 different side characters. The number of bad people can range a lot, but generally you want about 6-7 bosses, or leaders the main character must confront in some way. (Be it battle, speech, or what have you).

Locations can vary a lot, but don't overdo it. The biggest drawback of role playing games is the excessive area they have to travel in. It seems that the number of steps travelled has only increased in recent games. [Unfortunately] I'd say less than 6 towns, and as many as 7-8 bad people places. Remember, these two factors will largely reflect how much time the game takes, and how long it takes to beat your game.

The final aspect is the main goal. Maybe a unspeakable evil has broken it's containment. Or.. a new interest in taking over the planet for complete domination. All sorts of plans here. For sidequests, there should be at least two of them. If you have too many sidequests it will make the character forget what is going on ("The end of the world" and all). If you have too few, well.. some people want a break you know?

RPG Commons - Common aspects of RPG
I haven't said anything about a missing element to role playing games. And that is combat. Every RPG has to have something where you're fighting your generic monster. This definitely takes some time to write up exactly how combat works. I won't get into detail on RPG combat, but there is a wide array of possibilities.

Another common thing your game should have (Unless your doing something crazy) is all sorts of items. From weapons like swords, bows, maces, and so on, to healing items, to possibly even super-rare stat boosters. Items are particularly what is used to give characters better offense/defense at the cost of cold, hard cash.

Concluding Arguments - Last thoughts on RPGs
In conclusion I'd like to say that time and effort have to be pushed to create all the aspects that make a RPG something different, and yet acceptable. While I have taken a more traditional approach to what is needed in a RPG, feel free to try to experiment on what works within story-driven games.